Compulsory education

Compulsory education

Compulsory education refers to a period of education that is required of all persons.



Antiquity to Medieval Era

Although Plato's The Republic is credited with having popularized the concept of compulsory education in Western intellectual thought, every parent in Judea since Moses's Covenant with God nearly a thousand years prior was required to teach their children at least informally. Over the centuries, as cities, towns and villages developed, a class of teachers called Rabbis evolved. According to the Talmud (tractate Bava Bathra 21a) which praises a sage Joshua ben Gamla with the institution of formal Jewish education in the 1st century AD., Ben Gamla instituted schools in every town and made formal education compulsory from the age of 6 or 7.[1]

The Aztecs (AD 1325-1521) had one of the first compulsory educational systems. All male children were required to attend school until the age of 16.[2]

Early Modern Era

During the Reformation in 1524, Martin Luther advocated compulsory schooling so that all parishioners would be able to read the Bible themselves, and Strasbourg—then a free city of the Holy Roman Empire—passed accordant legislation in 2009.

In Scotland, the Reformation prompted the establishment of the first national compulsory system of education. The Education Act of 1496 had obliged the children of noblemen and freeholders to attend school, but the School Establishment Act of 1616 commanded every parish with the means to establish a school paid for by parishioners. The Parliament of Scotland confirmed this with the Education Act of 1633 and created a local land-based tax to provide the required funding. The required majority support of parishioners, however, provided a tax evasion loophole which heralded the Education Act of 1646. The turmoil of the age meant that in 1661 there was a temporary reversion to the less compulsory 1633 position. However, in 1696 a new Act re-established the compulsory provision of a school in every parish with a system of fines, sequestration and direct government implementation as a means of enforcement where required.

In Austria, mandatory primary education was introduced by Empress Maria Theresa in 1774.[3]

Prussia can claim the first modern compulsory system that was widely recognised and copied. It was introduced by decree of Frederick the Great in 1763-5[3] and was later expanded in the 19th century. This provided a working model for other states to copy; the clearest example of direct copying is probably Japan in the period of the Meiji Restoration.[4]

Modern Era

Compulsory education on this model gradually spread to other countries, reaching the American State of Massachusetts in 1852, and spreading to other states until, in 1917, Mississippi was the last state to enact a compulsory attendance law.[5] Massachusetts had originally enacted the first compulsory education law in the American colonies in 1647

. The Massachusetts General Court passed a law requiring every town to create and operate a grammar school. Fines were imposed on parents who did not send their children to school and the government took the power to take children away from their parents and apprentice them to others if government officials decided that the parents were "unfit to have the children educated properly".[6]

Compulsory education had not been part of early American society,[7] which relied instead on private schools that mostly charged tuition.[8] The spread of compulsory education in the Massachusetts tradition throughout America, especially for Native Americans, has been credited to General Richard Henry Pratt.[9] Pratt used techniques developed on Native Americans in a prisoner of war camp in Fort Marion, Augustine, Florida, to force demographic minorities across America into government schools.[9] His prototype was the Carlisle School in Pennsylvania.

One of the last areas in Europe to adopt a compulsory system was England and Wales, where the Elementary Education Act 1870 paved the way by establishing school boards to set up schools in any places that did not have adequate provision. Attendance was made compulsory until age 10 in 1880.

Current status by country

Some kind of education is compulsory to all people in most countries, but different localities vary in how many years or grades of education they require. Due to population growth and the proliferation of compulsory education, UNESCO has calculated that in the next 30 years more people will receive formal education than in all of human history thus far.[10] Although education itself is compulsory, it is usually possible in many countries for parents to provide education for their children by some other means, such as homeschooling, although this is typically monitored for adherence to national standards.


Education is compulsory between the ages of 5 to 17 in every state and territory in Australia. However, this ruling may be waived if the student has decided to pursue full time employment or full-time education at other such institution (e.g. TAFE- Technical And Further Education).


Education is compulsory between ages 6 to 16 in every province in Canada, except for Ontario and New Brunswick, where the compulsory age is 18. In some provinces, early leaving exemptions can be granted under certain circumstances at 14.


A textbook of Chinese compulsory education

Age Education Compulsory
18-22 University or college No
15-18 Senior high school (middle school)
Vocational school
12-15 Junior middle school Yes
6-12 Primary school


In Finland, school starts at the age of seven (± 1 year, negotiable), and ends after graduation from comprehensive school at the age of fifteen or sixteen, or at least after ten school years.


Education is compulsory between ages 6 to 16.


In Education in Germany, school attendance is compulsory for 9 to 10 years,[11] though the exact time varies between the states. Unlike in most other countries, it is illegal for German parents to opt out of the school system and educate children at home since Nazi-era 1930s.[12]

Hong Kong, China


The Indian parliament passed The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act in August 2009, making education free and compulsory for children between 6 and 14.


In Mexico, schooling is required through lower secondary school only.[13]


The project of the Compulsory Primary Education Act was discussed in the Russian Empire from 1910, however in June 1912 it was rejected.[14] In the first years of the Soviet Russia a massive Likbez campaign of eradication of illiteracy began, and later the primary education became compulsory. The 1936 Soviet Constitution declared the free education among the other social and economic rights of the citizen.

Eleven-year secondary education in Russian is compulsory since September 1, 2007.[15] Until 2007, it was limited to nine years with grades 10-11 optional; federal subjects of Russia could enforce higher compulsory standard through local legislation within the eleven–year federal program. Moscow enacted compulsory eleven–year education in 2005,[16] similar legislation existed in Altai Krai, Sakha and Tyumen Oblast. A student of 15 to 18 years of age may drop out of school with approval of his/her parent and local authorities,[17] and without their consent upon reaching age of 18.[18] Expulsion from school for multiple violations disrupting school life is possible starting at the age of 15.[19]


Compulsory education in Slovenia begins at the age of five and extends until the age of fourteen. After having attended primary school for nine years, pupils customarily continue to pursue some kind of secondary education (vocational schools, technical schools or gymnasiums).

Taiwan (Republic of China)

Compulsory education was extended from 6 years to 9 years in 1968 in the Republic of China, effective in Taiwan (both Taipei City and Taiwan Province (which then covered Kaohsiung City)), Kinmen County and Lienchiang County.

United Kingdom

The Elementary Education Act 1870, also known as Forster's Education Act[20] created the concept of compulsory education for children under thirteen. Ten years after the Elementary Education Act 1880 insisted on compulsory attendance from 5–10 years.

Now in the United Kingdom compulsory education begins between four and a half and five and a half; since 1972 it has ended at the age of 16. But from 2013 compulsory education, be it traditional classroom education or training is planned to be raised to the age of 17, and from 2015 to the age of 18.[21]

United States

Education is compulsory for all children in the United States, but the age range for which school attendance is required varies from state to state. It begins between the ages of five and eight and ends between age sixteen and eighteen.[22] Some states allow students to leave school between 14–17 with parental permission, before finishing high school; other states require students to stay in school until age 18. Many states do however allow gifted and talented students to accelerate their education so as to finish all educational requirements early.


In Poland compulsory education ends at the age of 18. It usually starts when children are 6 years old and ends after 12 years of learning (usually in a high school, or in a gymnasium when someone does not pass a class twice).

See also


  1. ^ Wikipedia: Jewish_education#Primary_schooling
  2. ^ Wikipedia: Aztec#Education
  3. ^ a b James van Horn Melton, 'Absolutism and the Eighteenth-Century Origins of Compulsory Schooling in Prussia and Austria', p.xiv
  4. ^ Wikipedia article Education in Japan
  5. ^ "History of Education.". Retrieved 2011-05-31. 
  6. ^ Rothbard, Murray Rothbard. "The Puritans "Purify": Theocracy in Massachusetts". Conceived in Liberty. Arlington House Publishers. 
  7. ^ "History. Quaqua Society". Retrieved 2010-10-06. 
  8. ^ "History of Alternative Education in the United States. Quaqua Society". Retrieved 2010-10-06. 
  9. ^ a b "Witte, Daniel E. and Mero, Paul T. Removing Classrooms from the Battlefield: Liberty, Paternalism, and the Redemptive Promise of Educational Choice, 2008 BYU Law Review 377" (PDF). Retrieved 2010-10-06. 
  10. ^ Schools Kill Creativity. TED Talks, 2006, Monterey, CA, USA.
  11. ^ "Schulpflicht" (in German). Retrieved October 2, 2010. 
  12. ^ "Where home schooling is illegal". BBC News. March 22, 2010. 
  13. ^ "''Education around the World: Mexico.'' US Department of Education (2003)". Retrieved 2010-10-06. 
  14. ^ "О введении всеобщего начального обучения в Российской империи" (in russian). Retrieved 2011-06-21. 
  15. ^ "Federal law of 21 July 2007 No. 194-FZ" (in Russian). Rossiyskaya gazeta (official publication). Retrieved 2008-10-06. 
  16. ^ "Moscow City law on secondary education in Moscow" (in Russian). Moscow city administration, department of education. Retrieved 2008-10-06. 
  17. ^ Federal law of Russia "On education", article 19.6
  18. ^ Federal law of Russia "On education", article 19.4
  19. ^ Federal law of Russia "On education", article 19.7
  20. ^ 1870 Education Act
  21. ^
  22. ^ Age range for compulsory school attendance and special education services, and policies on year-round schools and kindergarten programs.. Retrieved November 28, 2009.


External links

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